Baelgritz was standing at the end of the world. Under usual circumstances that would have been a metaphor, but the chasm in front of him was doing a very good job of presenting a literal depiction of the world’s demise.
“They’re even eating the magma?” Damnazon asked pointing to the [Terravorlings] that were piling up at the bottom of crater that had been torn in the world’s skin.
“The question is what happens if they burrow down to the core?” Mellisandra asked.
“I don’t think we’d be around to see that,” Illuthiz said. “These things aren’t gaining volume when they eat. Not like their progenitor,” she pointed to the spikey spherical corpse of the [Nightmare Terravore] that still floated in the sky above the ruined landscape. The corpse they’d spent the last several hours battling into its current state. The corpse a steady stream of world eating maggots was pouring down from. “No volume gain means that if they eat to the core, their gravitational force along with the the rest of the planet is going to pull everything into the space they ate through, which is going to shatter the entire crust and plunge everything into a sea of lava. Until they eat all of that too.”
“That just does not seem fair,” Cambrell said. “When you kill something it should have the decency to at least stop reproducing.”
“Nothing about these things is even within the same light cone as decency,” Hermeziz said.
“Cheer up though, Grenslaw says we’re one of the lucky groups,” Baelgritz added.
“How are we lucky? We’ve got no mp left and those things are breeding like crazy still,” Cease All said. She and the rest of the Army of Light were recovering from the battle with the [Nightmare Terravore] as best as they were able but some of the creatures attacks had left them with unhealable wounds, or stat reductions that even trips through the [Heart Fire] couldn’t repair.
“The lucky part is that, while there’s a lot of these things, they’re capable of dying,” Baelgritz said. “Some of things Penswell’s teams are fighting don’t do that.”
“So they’re invulnerable?” Cease said. “That’s not exactly unheard of. Probably just need to find their mechanics.”
“That’s one theory. The [Scourge of Serpents] is the nearest one,” Illuthiz said. “Grenslaw asked if we could teleport there and help figure out what the mechanic could be.”
“Teleport with what? We’re wrecked here,” Cease said, and at least a dozen of her comrades nodded in agreement.
“I explained that, and explained that we have an ongoing problem here still,” Illuthiz said.
“Yeah, too few of us and far too many of them,” Damnazon said.
“Thought that was every day that ends in ‘y’ for an [Adventurer],” Cambrell said.
“It is, but this feeling different,” Mellisandra said.
Below them, the [Terravorlings] stubbornly refused to burn up in the lava like good little world destroying maggots were supposed to. From the insatiable manner in which they torn into the molten rock, their original nature as spawns of a [Relentless Hunger] was readily apparent. Baelgritz had to wonder though if any of the Hunger’s drive towards oblivion remained. Eating the world’s core would cause it’s destruction in the distressingly short term, and they could theoretically eat the rest of it if given time, but given how the [Terravorlings] were moving it looked like they were taking pains not to devour each other.
“Saving each other for dessert?” Cambrell offered when Baelgritz shared his observation.
“Could be, but what happens to the last one?” Baelgritz asked, feeling like that was a more important question than it should be.
Feral Fang was exhausted. [Jormungand] was supposed to be the name of a specific mythological beast, not a species name.
“Fish us up another one! The ocean’s draining away faster than ever!” Niminay said.
Below them, the tide had sunk another ten feet down the cliff face from where Melissa was perched with her [Compliant Rod].
“Have you gotten the [Bottle of Eternal Sweetwater] out of the last one yet?” Melissa asked, replacing the one hundred and one enchantments on the [Compliant Rod] so that it could even begin to withstand the beyond absurd levels of force it was going to have to endure once again.
“Nope,” Niminay said. “The dungeon inside the last one is even bigger than the one before it. The team that went in to get the bottle is still working through it. Is there anything else you can work with?”
“Yeah,” Feral Fang said. “Pure skill.”
Her cast wasn’t a thing of beauty. She had precisely zero interest in looking graceful or showing off. All that mattered was pure efficiency.
The lure she used was an illusion, a bit of magic woven around itself to attract the eye and ensnare the mind of her target. Despite the tight focus on who the lure was designed to attract, Feral Fang still cast it a good ten miles out into the ocean to be sure she didn’t inadvertently captivate her allies. In theory fishing magic only worked on creatures that swam in the deeps, but Feral Fang was overcharging techniques that only the very highest tier of fishers were capable of attempting. If she’d messed up the luring spell she was pretty sure it would detonate with the force of a small atomic bomb.
It was only somewhat distressing that an explosion of that size would barely scuff a [Jormungand’s] hide.
“Any idea how many more of these things there are?” Melissa asked, feeling the ten mile long line go taut almost the instant she sensed the lure plunge into the ocean.
“The good news is they don’t seem to be breeding new ones,” Niminay said. “Not anymore at least.”
“Not anymore? How long were they breeding for?” Melissa asked.
“Uh, are you sure you want to know the answer to that?” Niminay asked.
“Want to? Oh definitely not. Need to? Yeah. Probably,” Melissa said, unable to keep the heavy sigh from her voice.
“We sent a team to [Subaquatica]. Penny hoped it would make a good observation platform,” Niminay said.
“That’s like twenty miles away? Could they see anything from there?” Melissa asked.
“Not exactly? [Subaquatica’s] gone. The [Jormungand Breeding Grounds] covers the whole area now.”
It felt good to be driving a wagon again. After the fuss and bother of the last several days, having a nice simple assignment that was well within her wheelhouse put a broad happy smile on Grunvan’s face.
“We’re out of [Sky Scorcher Missiles] up here. Pass me another crate of them!” Argwin said as she tossed the last of their loaded [Inferno Cannons] to their [Octopire] friend Kolovin.
Yep. Just a nice, normal wagon delivery.
“I think those [Soul Shriekers] up ahead are trying to rot the bridge out before we can get there too by the way,” Argwin said. “You know, just in case you hadn’t noticed the explosions an such.”
Grunvan had, in fact, noticed the explosions. She also saw how the aforementioned [Soul Shrieks] were distorting the air out a twenty yard radius from the bridge. It was of course possible that the distortion would give them a nice massage and maybe do a little exfoliation to clear their pores. Magic was funny like that. Just because it was bending solid metal and causing wood to age into dust before her eyes didn’t mean that it would be bad or harmful for them, right?
She tossed another [Inferno Cannon] from the box she’d been using as a wagon seat back to Kolovin. It joined the other three that the [Octopire] was wielding and together the quad-array of Consortium heavy ordnance weapons looked like they would be enough to push back the [Wraithwing Assault] long enough for Grunvan and her crew to reach the bridge.
Where they would either plummet to their death or be corpsified by the [Soul Shriekers].
The alternative, however, was worse.
Death had come to the [Fallen Kingdoms], or, more precisely, [Death Shadows]. Creatures that could inhabit anyone’s shadow and instantly drain the life from them, before peeling their shadow away and stalking away as a dozen copies to do the same to anyone even slightly touched by darkness.
Penswell had passed on the good news in a rather hasty conference. Apparently the world was falling apart in a variety of places and thanks to the actions of a staggering assortment of different enemies, and Penny had the [Adventuring Parties] out dealing with the different threats.
All of them.
Every [Adventuring Party] in the world.
Even the ones who hadn’t taken up arms against the [Consortium of Pain].
And, they weren’t enough.
That was why Grunvan was barreling down a shattered road in a the makeshift remains of a stolen Consortium wagon, being pulled by [Lava Demons] who mostly seemed to understand the commands she was giving them, while being pursued by a flight of [Wraithwings] sufficient to blacken the sky on what should have been a bright and sunny day.
Why the [Wraithwings] had shown up was something of a mystery. As far as Grunvan knew, they weren’t allies of the Consortium and shouldn’t have had any particular interest in the critters that were trying to end the world. [Wraithwings] could die the same as anything else, and the [Death Shadows] didn’t seem picky about who or what they stole the life from.
So far as Grunvan could tell the only reason the [Death Shadows] hadn’t swarmed over them as the [Wraithwings] blotted out the sun was the fear of the [Sun Bombs] her team had stocked the back of the wagon with.
Bombs made for terrible defensive tools but, with the stockpile they were sitting on, Grunvan guessed the [Death Shadows] within a couple hundred miles wouldn’t exactly be able to gloat over their victory.
Kamie Anne Do
Grace was deader than dead. She was okay with that though. They’d been doing good work. Hunting the [Disjoined] down into the deepest reaches of the [Dead Lands]. Developing new skills and even new classes, and putting an end to nightmares she’d never even imagined existed before.
And she’d gotten to scritch a [Hound of Fate] behind the ears.
It had nuzzled her hand in response, and if that was all she really accomplished in her life, that was fine. Good life. A+ score. Met the victory conditions and she could retire in peace.
Except, no matter how tired she and her team were, there was no rest to be had.
“Is it a bad sign that we don’t look like we used to?” Battler X asked, holding up a hand that was no longer a ghostly image of a human hand but rather a chalk white and disturbingly solid appendage with joints spaced noticeably off from where they should have been.
“That’ll depend on whether we can change back to how we used to look once we get back to the [Heart Fire],” Buzz Fightyear said.
“If we can get back to the [Heart Fire],” Grail Force said. “I don’t know about you all, but I lost track of where the path back home was about three layers of the [Emptiness] ago.”
Kamie turned to Grail, her unliving breath caught in her throat..
“I’m sorry. The what?” she asked.
“The [Emptiness],” Grail repeated.
“Why does that sound like a real term?” Battler asked.
“Because it is” Buzz said. “Where did you hear it?”
“I didn’t,” Grail said. “Check your map.”
“This area doesn’t have a map,” Kamie said.
“Right, but look up at the breadcrumb,” Grail said. “The region is still listed.”
“The [Emptiness]? But I thought we were in the [Dead Lands],” Buzz said.
“We were,” Kamie said. “We definitely were. But we chased those things so far. When did we get here? I mean when did the region change?”
“I don’t know,” Grail said. “I noticed a couple of drops ago. Was going to call it out, but we’ve sort of had other things to worry about.”
“I don’t get it though,” Battler said. “This place isn’t empty. The Hounds are here, and we fought those gray hydra things, and the [Disjoined] came here for something right?”
“They did,” Kamie said. “The whole time, they weren’t just running from us. They were running towards something.”
“So how is this place empty then?” Battler asked.
“Can’t you tell?” Grail asked. “Look around. The gray hydra followed us here. The buildings are reflections from our memories. Even the [Disjoined] didn’t last. They were finally falling apart when we got to the last of them. There’s no one here. No people. No ghosts. This isn’t a place for the dead. This is a place for no one.”